Friday, March 27, 2015

How to help an Elephant Make a U-Turn

Book Review


How to help an Elephant Make A U-turn – a new approach to leadership and transformational change, G.K. Jayaram, Maven / Rupa, 258 pages


Dear Jaya,

I am taking the liberty of calling you by your first name – since in the ‘’author’s note’’ you invited the reader to ‘talk to you’ (over a mellow drink, at that) rather than simply ‘read’ the book.  Actually – that’s a novel (pun intended) way to have a lesson on leadership and I quite like your style.

I picked you up (no pun intended there) at the Higginbotham’s in Chennai Airport during a long layover between flights.  Over the years I have become a bit wary of books on leadership – with practically every other superannuated executive turning into a leadership coach and writing a book. Much of what they write –  to twist one of your quotes – works neither in practice nor in theory.  But, the green jacket held my attention and what caught my eye were the words “Transformational Change”.  Flipping the pages I found myself being seduced by another term “transcendental leadership’’. So, is this guy talking of personal transformation as a key to change and leadership? – I asked myself and there you got me hooked.

I was fascinated by the concept of RORE – ‘revolution of rising expectation’. What could be more relevant for a country of young people like ours waiting to break free in the world. It is truly an empowered generation with a mind of their own, who believe in their abilities and think they are not less than equal to anyone – what you call PROBE ( Promise in and Belief of Equality). The challenge, therefore, is as much for the business or corporate leader  - as it is for the societal and political leadership – in how to harness this energy, transcend the past as also the immediate and practical (pragmatic) to create transformational change.

I am glad that you have taken the concept beyond the narrow and limited framework of corporate organisation to society at large – because the issues facing leaders dealing with a young restless professionals who see sky as the limit or the small town graduate coming from an humble homes  - no longer recognise any sense of ‘’entitlement” and want to reach the top solely on merit and by dint of their hard work.

Today’s leaders must recognise this tectonic shift (to use a cliché) in attitude and aspirations – otherwise they risk losing talent in organisations just as the old world politicians will find themselves hopelessly disconnected from the ‘gen-next’ voters.
Frankly – I don’t care much for the testimonials and interviews you have laced the book with. To be blunt – they came across to me as your ‘’Infy’’ Groupies or the Bangalore Club cronies – who intrude into our quiet chat at the Bar. Over-laden with the quotes and excerpts from other leadership and management classics the so called “Leader-Speak”  were a distraction. But, I thought it was a great idea to bring in contemporary examples of the Anna movement and the infamous fall of the Indian ‘poster-boy’ of corporate America to bring home the importance of integrity, intensity and imagination in your  3 + 5 Model of Transcendental Leadership.

It’s easy to understand – why Narayana Murthy calls you the “quintessential, friend, philosopher and guide”. I can relate to you as one – virtually – even not having met you in person.

Warmly,

Sandip

PS: Hope you have gifted an autographed copy to the Prime Minister. The subject would be right up his street. And, even young Arvind Kejriwal – could do with one so that he can “transcend’’  the past mistakes of his own and that of his former mentor  – that you so graphically describe in the book – and move on to a higher order of transformational leadership.

Article first published in Business Today issue April 12, 2015